On some national public radio, feel good story about the immigrant experience and programs that help newly arrived immigrants cope with the freezing Minnesota winters, they talked with one of the teachers, an East African man who had arrived 15 years prior. He talked on the point of how impossible it is to imagine finger numbing cold without experiencing it. There is no way for someone in East Africa to imagine a cold so ultimate and dangerous that it can actually freeze your nose off. I presume this makes enough sense to us all.
But if we agree to this premise, we must acknowledge a more uncomfortable truth – the implausibility and impossibility of empathy. When a college professor of mine first proposed this theory, it seemed absurd. I had graduated kindergarten, watched Sesame Street, and read multicultural books. I had grown up in a racially and socio-economically diverse city. Love thy neighbors is one of the oldest tenets. Yet in truth, just as that East African man had no way of truly knowing frostbite, empathy cannot really exist.
Empathy is defined at it’s simplest level as: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
So let us stop bullshitting ourselves, if we have never faced a violent sexual assault, survived an bombing air raid, been subjected to long periods of solitary confinement, there is absolutely no way for us “to understand and share” the feelings of someone who has.
This is of an urgent and critical nature now because our nation is currently witness and participant in a slaughter of black men. And at the root of this violence is a simple fact, most white people have never loved a black person. Many white people have never been friendly with a black person. Most white people have no empathy for a black person. This makes it significantly easier to ignore the injustice of a police officer killing an unarmed black man. And in some recent studies of neuroscience there is an overlap of the parts of the brain that relate to both empathy and violence.
“Moya Albiol says these parts of the brain overlap “in a surprising way” with those that regulate aggression and violence. As a result, the scientific team argues that the cerebral circuits — for both empathy and violence — could be “partially similar.”
We all know that encouraging empathy has an inhibiting effect on violence, but this may not only be a social question but also a biological one — stimulation of these neuronal circuits in one direction reduces their activity in the other,” the researcher adds.
This means it is difficult for a “more empathetic” brain to behave in a violent way, at least on a regular basis.” http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100409093405.htm
Because in fact for people who have a deep love for a black person, there are no tempered feelings. This moment is grueling, chaotic, threatening, panic, awful, tragic, tear my hair out ghastly. None with this love then ask why a community has risen up to fight those directly responsible for these murders. None ask why a widow would not accept the empty words of a system unwilling to protect those she loves. It is a terrifying time, with visions of those we love being murdered in the streets by a gang called the police. Followed by nightmares of a society that tells us to simply find a way to get over it and allow things to return to normal. That normal means death. That normal cannot exist in the face of love for black people.